More Data Is Better

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I had two discussions yesterday that centered around a similar topic. Both were with people who felt that more data is, by definition, better in the CRM space.

One of the discussions centered on deliverables for a service offering. It’s somewhat a best practice in the services industry to manufacture some sort of hard deliverable so that the customer goes away with something that is tangible, even if the real value they received was a service that did not result in any tangible goods. That makes sense, and it’s why consultants almost always deliver some form of post-engagement report to their clients.

But, this can get tricky if the “real” deliverable is data of some sort. It is tempting to make the tangible deliverable simply a binder of the all of that data sliced and graphed in enough ways to make a reasonably hefty book. The nice thing about data is that it doesn’t take very much to make a really complex-looking chart, and one small data set can be presented in countless ways.

The problem is that this is exactly the worst way to go about actually getting value from data. Spewing out charts quasi-randomly is a terrible way to get from data to information, and from information to action.

I agree that, for many customers of the service, this approach might work in the short term. In their minds, they believe “more data is better,” and it’s hard to argue that a dead tree, thinly sliced, bound, and covered with pretty pictures isn’t “more data.” Some of these customers may actually flip through the charts and ponder each one in succession. More, I would guess, will look at the first couple of pages and then set the whole book aside with the best intentions to sift through it later. In both cases, if asked if the data was useful, they are likely to respond, “Yes. Very.” But let’s not probe deeper and ask, “What actionable insights did you get from the report?” More often than not, this question will result in an awkward silence.

Think about it, though. It’s human nature to not want to admit, when you were given what you thought you wanted, and maybe even what you expected, asked for, and eagerly awaited, that it’s really not all that useful.

To build a long-term, lasting relationship with a services customer, isn’t it better to focus on what really will give them long-term value? Spend the time up front helping them articulate their objectives and goals for the service you are delivering. Establish success metrics up front that are meaningful. This may be harder than you think, but, it’s just like project management — the up front work will pay huge dividends. And, by working with the customer to make sure you have clearly articulated their objectives, and then stayed focused on their objectives throughout the process, and then delivered a report that reports on how well those objectives were met, there is a much stronger, longer term relationship in the making.

As a matter of fact, reporting that some of the objectives were not met, along with analysis and speculation as to why, can be a powerful customer relationship tool. It actually builds trust and shows a high level of integrity: “We did not meet all of your objectives — we met some and exceeded others, but we also missed in one or two areas. We’re not happy about that, and we’ve tried to understand what happened. We’d like to work through that with you so we both can learn and improve going forward.”

More data is not always better. The right data is best.

As for the second person, I’ll save that for another blog entry.

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